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1Ancient capital of Sicily, for more than 1,600 years, Syracuse was the first urban centre to emerge in Italy (well before Rome), for power, richness, military strength and population.


It has been calculated, in fact, that, in the period of its maximum strength (IV cent. B.C.), the city had 300,000 inhabitants. From its foundation by colonists from the doric city of Corinth, Syracuse began itself founding new sub-colonies, to control the nearby territory.

2Then, the city began submitting first of all the Sicilian Ionian Greek colonies, obtaining in the island a supremacy, which Carthage only, with its Sicilian colonies, will be able to face (until the arrival of Romans). But Syracuse will also be able to overcome Greek colonies of continental Italy, and his military power will extend on both sides of the Adriatic Sea (the Syracusan foundation of old Dubrovnik, in present Croatia, and the foundation of Adria and Spina, between present Romagna and Veneto). However, the city frazzled above all in the wars against Carthage, so that, in the III cent. b.C., Syracuse wasn’t able to oppose Rome. After beating Carthage and submitting Sicily (at the end of First Punic War in 241 b.C.), Rome sieged and took the city in 212 b.C., when Archimedes genially collaborated to defend it, but shared its destiny, being killed by a Roman soldier. After Syracuse’s conquest, in Rome the hellenization of Latin culture and life began, first of all because of the impressive number of Greek masterpieces coming from there. Anyway, Syracuse remained the capital of Sicily under the Romans too, a very rich and big city; so it stayed in the Byzantine period, when it was even the capital of the entire Eastern Roman Empire for five years (663-668). The conquest by the Arabs in 878 struck very deeply the city: the capital of Sicily was transferred to Palermo, and Syracuse had never more the same importance. 3

Only the institution of the Queens’ Chamber ( a kind of dowry in lands and properties, given to island’s queens) gave back to the city some of its past prestige, in the XIV cent. During the long Spanish Viceroyalty, its position was anyway of secondary importance in Sicily. Only in 1817, becoming the capital of a big province (comprising the present province of Ragusa too), Syracuse will increase again in population and status.

The city is extremely rich in monuments, particularly from the Antiquity and from the Baroque period, which gave to the island of Ortigia its aspect. For Classical times, the most important monuments are the Catacombs (and Syracuse is second only to Rome) and, above all the Greek Theatre, which is, in fact, a reconstruction made by the Romans of a pre-existing Greek theatre: the biggest in the island and one of the most important in the Mediterranean. Still today, ancient Greek tragedies are played here, every two years.

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